Research Report and Reflection

This is the research report and reflection on the project I completed over the first summer of the scholarship. The project I worked on was titled - "Quantifying and understanding the killing of reintroduced beavers in Scotland".

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Scholar 

Name:

Gabriel Rowland

Faculty:

Earth and Environment

Email address:

Ee20gr@leeds.ac.uk

Title of Scholarship Project:

Quantifying and understanding the killing of reintroduced beavers in Scotland

 

Please describe the research you have conducted this period

 Our research was focussed on collecting data from Scottish landowners regarding their views on beavers. We used mapping tools to create a sample of properties that were likely to own land adjacent to a river or tributary that we believed to contain beavers. Using a random number generator, sets of properties to visit were produced. Once done, we visited each of the generated properties and asked the resident to complete a short survey that anonymously recorded their views on beavers and whether they had interacted with beavers or dams and removed them. Some residents were unwilling to participate, some properties were unsuitable to visit, and in some cases, no one was in to talk to. Of the people who were willing to complete a survey, we used an anonymous method to find out about beaver interactions. We had black counters representing beavers killed, red counters representing dams destroyed, and white counters that could be used to add weight to jars and prevent us from knowing what had been added. The person being surveyed (if they had interacted with beavers) could then place the number of counters necessary into a labelled jar based on when the interaction had occurred, in this case before or after beavers became a protected species (May 2019). At the end of the project, we were then able to total the counters in the jars and use this to estimate the number of beavers killed and dams destroyed across the Scottish region we were working in (Perthshire). As well as this, the data collected on opinions towards beavers can be used to understand why people like, or do not like, the presence of beavers in Scotland and how they would like to see things change regarding beavers.

How is the research work you have been undertaking impactful or important?

To understand the importance of our research, it is first necessary to understand why beavers themselves are important. The UK, compared to many places in Europe, has a very small amount of land designated for nature and native wildlife. This means native species that used to exist in the UK, such as beavers, and current native species are important to conserve and protect in the limited regions where they live. Furthermore, beavers are known to reduce flooding in regions downstream of their dams and to create marsh-like habitat that supports a vast array of other native species, that all have important roles in ecosystems. As well as this, a vast amount of agricultural land in Scotland is used to grow crops designated for animal feed, and a lot of the remaining agricultural land is used for farming livestock that eat the feed. All this agricultural space is used to meet the demands of a meat-eating society, and by reducing meat consumption, the UK could then increase the amount of land for nature, thus reducing tensions between landowners and native species. The research we carried out is important because it provides a valuable insight into how landowners, that rely on their land for a source of income, view native species, and how they manage their presence. It also allows us to understand the situation from their perspective and collect data on how they are impacted by rewilding conservation approaches. Finally, it allows us to understand how we could change in the future to enable landowners and wildlife to co-exist without negatively impacting each other. The research considers the problems conservation schemes can have and what the solutions to these problems are or could be.

  What impact has conducting research had on your degree course and university experience?

This project has been an extremely valuable opportunity to get involved with relevant, applicable and interesting research that relates directly to my Environmental Science course. It will undoubtedly make me more employable in the future as it has provided me with real world experience and examples of content covered in lectures. It has helped me to actually understand principles covered on the course and shown me how theories don’t always work as well as intended in practice. Furthermore, it has reignited a passion and excitement for my course, which certainly struggled during the lockdown. This research has also encouraged me to go on and do my own research one day, as I enjoyed the feeling of adding information to a field and increasing the understanding of issues that I see as important for everyone. As well as this, the research has given me an insight into the amount of planning, preparation and ethical considerations required to carry out a successful project. Another aspect of university that this project has helped with is emphasising the value of reading around a subject. Not only does this inspire a greater interest, but it helps show links between different ideas and concepts and reinforces the understanding of topics. It also allows me to become more knowledgeable on topics, which means I have more confidence talking about those topics to others, thus further reinforcing understanding and providing new ways of thinking about problems.

 

What leadership skills do you believe you have gained from the research period? (please refer to the leadership attributes below)

One leadership skill I believe this project has helped me develop is strategic thinking. When talking to people about sensitive issues such as destruction of beavers, I had to be very tactical and considerate about how I explained and introduced the survey. As well as this, the project has helped me to learn to think about things from different perspectives and consider all the impacts decisions can have when implemented. An example of this is how the landowners in Scotland view beavers, some disliked them because of the destructive impacts they can have on agricultural land, and I came to understand why and respect that opinion, whereas previously I would have struggled to relate to that view as I only saw the positive side and had not been exposed to this other view. It has led me to understand the unpredictable nature and complexity of applying theoretical concepts and displayed how any decision will satisfy some and displease others. Furthermore, this project has made me more independent and considerate of the needs of others, even when those needs may oppose my own views and opinions. It has shown me how people’s priorities can differ greatly based on their own experiences and what they see as important and highlighted the importance of empathy. I have also been able to practice organisation and adaptability. Completing the surveys required a great deal of preparation and organisational skills to plan routes, arrange meetings on those routes and adapt to setbacks or delays in the project. Other qualities this project has reinforced are respect, willingness to listen, decisiveness and open-mindedness.

Please talk about activities you’ve been involved in to disseminate your research, including but not limited to attending conferences, producing research posters, and promotion of the scholarship

So far, I have created a research poster for the Global Scholar’s Network that details the process of organising, planning, and completing the project. It is aimed at people who work in a wide range of different fields and hopefully conveys the importance of our research in an informative, interesting, and understandable way. As well as this, I have promoted the scholarship by wearing the scholarship clothing during my time completing the project and when out in public in my free time. During the project, this prompted the people I was surveying to ask about the scholarship and gave me a chance to explain that the project was being carried out through, and funded by, the Laidlaw Foundation. Social media has also been a useful tool that has helped in the promotion of both the project and the scholarship, allowing me to reach a wider audience and present the project to people outside of the scholarship community. As the project has only recently finished, I have not yet (at the time of writing) had the opportunity to attend any conferences. Looking to the future, I hope to be able to promote the project and scholarship more through conferences and interactions with others. In the coming months, I will be giving a short talk and presentation on the project to a group of primary school children, with the goal being to inspire them to go to university and get involved with opportunities that will help them develop as individuals.

What are your future career or educational plans?

My future ambitions are not set in stone, I want to keep my options open and do not want to limit myself to one career, instead, I will allow my degree and passions to navigate me towards a career that fits my beliefs and interests. Regarding education, I hope to complete a year in industry as part of my honours degree. This is because I believe it will equip me with practical skills and improve my employability in the future. As well as this, it is a great opportunity to work with a team of people in a similar field to that which I may go on to work in myself. Hopefully, this will help me to start understanding more about which career will work best for me. After my honour’s degree, I aim to complete a master’s degree, potentially followed by a PhD if this feels right at the time. I would like to do this because it is another chance to learn more about subjects I am interested in, and again will allow me to gain skills and knowledge that will be desirable to future employers. Following this, I want to travel and work in different countries and continents as this will expose me to a valuable sense of culture and provide me with new ideas and world views. It will also help me understand people from different backgrounds and develop my skills as an ethical leader. Ideally, I want to work in a job in the environmental sector that allows me to have a genuinely positive impact on the planet and educates others on why we should care about topics like climate change and environmental conservation. Whether this is as an employee of a company or organisation, or as the leader of my own business or organisation, will entirely depend on the options and opportunities that are available to me in the future. Whatever I end up doing, I want it to be something that I really enjoy and allows me to continue learning and helping the environment and communities. I do not want to have to compromise the values and ideals that I believe in, and I hope to be able to work in a team of like-minded people, that all aspire to create positive change.

Gabriel Rowland

Student, University of Leeds

I am an undergraduate student at the University of Leeds studying Environmental Science. Within my course, I am particularly interested in approaches to sustainability and conservation. Outside of my studies, I enjoy walking, exploring, cooking and powerlifting.